The discretion to redefine status offenses as crimes

System players not only have great discretion in whether misbehaviors are sent to court, but they can also choose to escalate cases to delinquency or even adult charges: curfew and underage drinking can be considered misdemeanors (a minor, delinquency offense), runaway youth can be charged with vagrancy (also a misdemeanor), and ungovernability can become disorderly conduct or offenses against the family and children (misdemeanors).[] Due to the wide variation in how cases can be categorized, there is no research identifying the number of would-be status offense cases that are charged as misdemeanors.  A common illustration is a parent-child conflict. For example, a fight between a mother and daughter may result in the daughter trying to strike her mom. If cops are called to the home, they can interpret the girl’s “acting out” as one of the following: 1) misbehavior that should result in referrals to mediation or other family supports; 2) a status offense that results in the mom’s court petition against her daughter, or 3) “simple assault” (a misdemeanor for attempting to cause serious physical harm to another person) that results in the girl’s arrest.[] Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), NIBRS Offense Definitions (Washington, DC: FBI, 2012),  

Among the escalated, disproportionate responses to youth misbehavior, recent attention has circled around harsh school discipline policies that drive the school-to-prison pipeline. Kids who act out in class can face varying consequences: they may be disciplined by the school (including suspension and expulsion), be sent to court for a status offense, or face misdemeanor or even felony charges (as is the case in Missouri).[] See Amanda Ripley, “How America Outlawed Adolescence,” The Atlantic (November 2016),; and Carima Townes, “Missouri Dooms Countless Children to the School-to-Prison Pipeline,” Think Progress, December 21, 2016,  Definitions of delinquency offenses like “school disturbance,” “willful defiance,” or “disorderly conduct on schools grounds” are sometimes so broad that they can encompass almost any misbehavior. For example, in South Carolina, where school discipline policies have recently been under scrutiny, “school disturbance” is defined as any time a student interferes with or disturbs students or teachers “in any way” or simply “act(s) in an obnoxious manner,” and it is punishable by up to 90 days’ imprisonment.[] South Carolina Legislature, South Carolina Code of Laws Unannotated (Columbia: South Carolina Legislature, 2010),; and Amy Davidson, “What Niya Kenny Saw,” The New Yorker, October 30, 2015,

Because these broad definitions leave much room for discretion, they open the door to the racial, cultural, and gender biases that already lead to higher rates of harsh disciplining—including suspensions and expulsions—of kids of color, especially girls.[] Jason P. Nance, “Over-Disciplining Students, Racial Bias, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline,” 50 University of Richmond Law Review 1063 (2016),; and Monique Morris, 2016.